Grammar Reform School: Help Improve the Writing of People Whose Work You Edit

Working on the production side of things at a consultancy or other type of business is probably one of the least glamorous jobs there is, perhaps besides administrative positions that involve pushing even more paper. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy it, because at the very least I get the smug satisfaction of knowing I’m better at conveying a thought on paper than all these highly paid C-level consultants. Even that satisfaction begins to wane, though, when the same common errors are constantly crossing your desk.

How best to approach the issue, though? I’ve found that some people can very easily get their back up when attempts are made to point out their spelling and grammar weaknesses. Maybe it feels too much like being reprimanded in school. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, as the famous flying nanny once said, and the same sentiment applies with grammar, too.

Start Early

If you establish a precedent early on of just accepting the work someone’s handing you, and then making corrections yourself before handing it off to someone else (assuming this isn’t part of your job description, of course), then it will be much, much harder to break this bad habit down the road.

If it isn’t too late, then start sending work back immediately. This can be hard to do when there are significant time constraints on a project, or when there’s pressure from the next link in the chain to get their hands on something, but if you can build in a revision loop early on in the cycle, higher-ups will ultimately be happier, and those before you in the process might actually improve with time, rather than repeating errors to a degree that’s absolutely maddening.

Be Direct

You won’t help anyone by being passive aggressive about spelling and grammar┬áproblems. Chances are that the offending party is fully aware that they need help, but they’ve never before encountered anyone willing to address the problem head on, and have managed to coast by accordingly.

After an initial period of discomfort, most people will actually respond positively to constructive criticism about their flaws in this area. Most likely, these problems have plagued them for a long time, and they haven’t ever been told how to go about fixing them, they’ve just been told they’re doing it wrong. Pairing criticism with helpful advice about how to improve is key.

There are also numerous Internet resources you can point people to, which can act as crib sheets. Perhaps most painless among these tools, since they’re also pretty funny, are The Oatmeal‘s comics. Some of the comics deal specifically with common errors in spelling and punctuation, and as an added bonus the rest of the site is pretty hilarious, too, so even though you’ll be chastising someone by sending out a link, you’ll also sort of be rewarding them.


Being told that something is wrong will make you aware of your error in that instance, but it won’t necessarily do anything to curb future bad behavior and repeated mistakes. If people know why a mistake they are making is wrong, then it becomes much easier to avoid it in the future, since it will make sense not to do it.

I still have to expand the contraction “it’s” to ensure that I’m using it right. Pointing out that it’s only correct to use it when you can substitute “it is” without changing the meaning of the sentence will go a long way to helping people avoid that specific error. Likewise, explaining the logic behind other common grammar and spelling errors will also prove helpful.

Results Take Time

None of the above are quick fixes, and you’ll have to feel out how far you can take things with specific individuals. The important thing with correcting these kinds of common mistakes is staying consistent, and not letting things slide. Once you begin just accepting that cleaning up flaws will be your job, it will become your job, even if it’s not something you’re being paid to do.

How do you go about getting others to improve their spelling and grammar?

Photo by Flickr user alkruse24, licensed under CC BY 2.0